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Some Good News About Social Security (Maybe)

This blog and many other media outlets report frequently on the problems and inadequacies of the Social Security Disability (SSD) system. However, the news is not uniformly bad. For example, the Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers SSD, recently announced that it would open field offices for an additional hour four days each week.

This change, which will apply to offices throughout the country, will take effect on March 16. Field offices will be open until 4 PM, rather than 3 PM, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Offices will continue to close to the public at noon on Wednesdays so that staff can complete paperwork and continue to tackle the backlog of SSD claims that clog many field offices.

Long Term Thinking About Field Offices Not Optimistic

Unfortunately, the addition of hours to field offices does not represent a permanent shift in SSA's approach to customer service. As recently as last summer, many media outlets reported on the probability that the SSA would close all or most of its field offices and require online communications for all aspects of the agency's disability and retirement programs.

A report that was leaked to the media last summer, titled "Long Term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements," revealed that the agency was exploring the possibility of closing all field offices and outsourcing those functions to private companies. Although at this stage the closures are simply talking points, it is clear that the agency is downsizing, even at a time of growing demand for services.

Does SSA Plan to Close Field Offices as Demand Grows?

Baby boomers, who are coming into their retirement years or are disabled and unable to work in their 50s and 60s, are placing more demands than ever before on the system. Despite this, the agency cut more than 11,000 employees between 2011 and 2014. The report further noted that a significant proportion of current employees would be retired by 2022. However, the plan appears to be not to replace these laid off and retiring employees, but to cut services.

The expectation appears to be that seniors and the disabled will interact with the SSA online. As a 2014 article in the Huffington Post reported, those most in need of help with the benefits provided by the Social Security Administration are those least likely to be using the Internet for services - the elderly and disabled.

Addition of a Few Hours Not a Long-Term Solution

Although the plan uncovered last year has not been implanted or approved, the SSA appears to be going in the direction outlined in the plan. Between 2010 and 2014, 64 field offices were closed entirely. Given this picture, restoring four hours per week to those offices that remain open, although still with reduced hours, seems like a drop in the bucket.

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